Musings from the Threshold

Category Archives: Christmas

Advent is Coming! (A Gift For You)

From Dictionary.com
ad·vent [ad-vent] noun
1. a coming into place, view, or being; arrival: the advent of the holiday season.
2. ( usually initial capital letter ) the coming of Christ into the world.
3. ( initial capital letter ) the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ into the world.
4. ( usually initial capital letter ) Second Coming.
Word Origin & History –
“important arrival,” 1742, an extended sense of Advent “season before Christmas” (O.E.), from L. adventus “arrival,” from pp. stem of advenire “arrive, come to,” from ad- “to” + venire “to come” (see venue). Applied in Church L. to the coming of the Savior, either the first or the anticipated second…
(Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)

Advent, the time when we ponder with wonder the coming of our Savior, and look forward with anticipation to His coming again, begins next Sunday, December 2. What an opportunity for family worship and memory-building around the true reason for the Christmas season!

I’d like to share with you again this year my book Anticipating the Savior – The Advent Wreath as a Tool for Worship.  As I have said in the past, our family has been deeply blessed by the use of the Advent Wreath, and I pray that this offering of a free e-book will bless and aid your worship as well, whether you are worshipping alone or with a house full of family.

Just right click on the following link and choose “Save Target As” to save the .pdf file to your computer.

Anticipating the Savior – The Advent Wreath as a Tool for Worship

I would be delighted for you to share this book with your friends and family. Would give me the grace of directing them here to share, please?

AtS_ButtonPic

Quick shopping list for your Advent Wreath:
Four candles for the outer ring of candles. They can be tapers, votive, pillars… or whatever works for you. Depending on preference and availability, you need three purple or blue, and one pink or red. You might consider purchasing an extra set in case the first burns too low.
One white candle for the center Christ candle. I like to use a pillar, but find what suits you.
Candle holders for safety. I use simple individual candle holders for my tapers, and a small glass plate for my pillar.
Greenery of some sort for your wreath. An actual wreath, a length of garland, live evergreen branches… the form is much less important than the heart!

 

Christmas Pictures

Mostly a for-the-grandparents post, with cute pictures and brief concluding thoughts…

Christmas Day Pictures

Handmade sibling gifts – It was a blessing to be a part of the making of these gifts of love!

From their parents – handmade lapdesks and thrifty books

Gifts from and to a dear friend, who would like a quiet corner of the internet, but who was a very special part of our Christmas day. We love you, girl!

Gifts from G’pa and G’ma Smith

Christmas Dinner and Games. Fun times!

A few days later, we had Second Christmas when a box arrived from Papa and Mama Byrd

Books for the Blessings

Journals for the Blessings (and a bus for Stephen)

Assorted goodies for J&L and Andrew

We’re thankful to our parents for honoring our desire for a simplified Christmas this year. We love you all and are so thankful for your support over the years. We have the best folks around!

Christmas/Advent Thoughts

Some post-Christmas thoughts on the Advent season and our developing family traditions as we seek to keep our focus on the Christ who was born to die that we might live eternally. Not prescribing or mandating for anyone else. These are simply some ways He is showing our family His grace at Christmas.

I wrote in early December about a couple of our Advent traditions and how blessedly they have helped us focus more on the Saviour during the season in which the world celebrates* His coming. Ann Voskamp‘s Jesse Tree book was such a helpful addition to our following of the story of redemption this December, and I loved being able to recommend it to folks. Our family Advent Wreath tradition continues to evolve, and I am prayerfully considering putting together a free downloadable Advent Wreath resource for next Advent season.

We wound up planning a trip to visit my folks and family in Florida during the third week of December. It wasn’t my first choice for timing, but God’s timing has this way of being better than mine, and He came through again with perfect timing and a wonderful trip.

I knew in November, as I looked ahead to December, that I was going to have abundant opportunity to stretch-and-release my expectation and perfectionism muscles. The Father was gracious in helping me to relax, to enjoy the moments, and let go of many less-than-important things that I ordinarily would think of as important.

So, our house was not dressed-to-the-nines this Christmas. When the Christmas boxes were brought down, a couple of them hid in the attic and avoided us altogether! I didn’t unpack my beloved Christmas dishes; the doors and bookcases didn’t have lights and garland; the wall hanging were not re-done for Christmas; we got out just a couple of ornaments for each family member; etc.

But oh the fun we had! And how our hearts worshipped our Creator made flesh!

We caught up on our missed week of the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath during the week before Christmas. We also did some fun things that we’d either not done before or haven’t done for years.

We made salt-dough ornaments



We baked and decorated sugar cookies


We strung popcorn for our tree

I don’t remember ever doing this before in my life and I loved it. Davey popped two batches of popcorn in our air popper, and the next day we started stringing (I’d read that it works better if the popcorn has a bit of time to get stale before stringing). We would put a section on the tree whenever it seemed like it was getting too long, and put the last piece up Christmas Eve day. Definitely planning to do this again. And maybe we’ll string cranberries next year, too.
We let the Blessings hang Christmas lights in their rooms. They loved it, and it reminded me of college days.
While in Florida, I put up and decorated Papa and Mama’s tree for them. It was such fun!

Simplified Homemade Gifting
A college friend of Jonathan’s unintentionally inspired us to a handmade Christmas this year. The Blessing’s sibling drawing led to some creative thinking (on both their part and mine), and they really enjoyed both the making and the giving of their gifts. I made lapdesks for the older seven Blessings, and cheated on the handmade theme when I saw a collapsable baby gym at the resale shop for $2 for Andrew (needed, cute, and cheap). We also gave used books that we had gotten throughout the year at library book sales and thrift stores. Stockings were simple… mostly fruit, nuts, a bit of candy, and a couple of trinkets each. We also made gifts for other family members (so of which still need to be sent, so I’m not talking about them even though I don’t think my brothers-in-law read my blog) and friends.
We have always sought to have a minimal number of gifts so that the focus is not on “the haul,” but I was surprised at how much freedom I found in the additional simplicity of this year’s gifting plan. Yes, I spent quite a lot of time helping Blessings work on gifts and making gifts myself. But gift-making as a labor of love is so much more enjoyable than shopping, in my opinion. Even when it keeps you up into the wee hours for several nights before Christmas because you didn’t plan ahead well enough. It also was easier to not get carried away with impulsive buying. To walk through the stores with their shelves of Christmas-targetted gifts and feel no stress? That was wonderful. And it freed me to worship and enjoy being with my family. Definitely a tradition I’m interested in continuing.

Tree notes: We bought our first fake tree of our married life this year. Last year, there was just too much stress over water-damage concerns. And since we were gone for a week, it was great to come home to a tree that was still in great condition. Instead of putting our Jesse Tree ornaments in a separate location, we hung them on our Christmas tree (and loved it that way) this year. Incidentally, we also purchased the second fake tree of our married life this year… the day after Christmas. It’s a smaller tree that was 50% off and will be a lovely Jesse Tree.

Whew, thanks for sticking with me through this long post (if you’re still reading!). I felt the need to “jot down” some thoughts, and I pray our journey is an encouragement to you.

*Yes, the worldly celebration is mangled and twisted, but isn’t it amazing that His coming is proclaimed and honored amidst the greed? Just a tiny foretaste of “every knee shall bow,” in my opinion.

I Corinthians 13 – Christmas Version

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling
lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another
decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies,
preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at
mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that
I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend
a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata, but do not
focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and
table linens.
Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they
are there to be in the way.
Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices
in giving to those who can’t.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all
things.
Love never fails.
Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust.
But giving the gift of love will endure.
Merry Christmas!

— Author Unknown

This was posted to our home school support group elist in late Dec. 09. I didn’t want to forget it, so I set it up to post in Dec. 2010. What a great reminder!

Advent – Anticipating the Coming

Jonathan and I come from a church tradition that does not not embrace the celebration of Advent. Yet, over the last several years, two Advent traditions in particular have deepened and enriched our savoring of the Christmas season, and of the grand story of Redemption itself.

You can get a glimpse of our little journey if you click on “Advent” in the category cloud. I also thought I would share a bit about the Advent traditions that have become so meaningful to our family.

The Advent Wreath:
The basic physical layout of the wreath is four smaller candles (one for each week of Advent) surrounding a central white candle (the Christ candle, to remain unlit until Christmas Day). The candles are usually entwined with greenery or placed in an actual wreath. Usually, three of the surrounding candles are purple, while one is pink (to express Joy, a traditional them for week 3). Blue seems to be easier to find than purple in taper candles, which is what we use, so ours are often blue and pink. Some use blue and red. More important is the focusing theme for each week.

Each of the four weeks of Advent has a theme, which differ according to varying church traditions. During the first week, one of the surrounding candles is lit as the theme for that week is highlighted. In each of the following weeks, another candle is lit, so that during week 4, all four candles are lit while the wreath is in use.

Our Advent themes are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. In the evening after supper, we light the candle(s), read related Scripture, and sing related songs (carols, other hymns, Scripture songs, etc). Because we are not part of a church tradition that uses this tool, we have developed our own eclectic version. It is a time of quiet reflection (punctuated this year by little outbursts of energy from our darling three-year-old-in-need-of-training) that helps to ground us during a time of year when it is so easy to be distracted.

There are many websites that might be helpful if you are interested in learning more about Advent Wreaths. I’ve done a lot of searching as we’ve settled into our our family wreath tradition.

The Jesse Tree:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2

The Jesse Tree tradition is a tool that traces the Story of Redemption from Creation to the Coming of the Savior. Each day of Advent (or, in our house, as often as we can manage), the participants look at another piece of the tapestry that the Father wove in preparation for the coming of the Son. It is breathtaking to watch His plan unfold.

Each day, an ornament representing the day’s event is placed on the Jesse Tree. This can be a branch that you stick in a pot, an evergreen tree, or a tree formed on the wall by the ornaments themselves. One year we used a leftover giant campaign sign and painted our tree on the back side. The particulars are not a smidgen as important as the Story.

We are enjoying a new aid for our Jesse Tree this year, from Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience. There is a link on the righthand sidebar of her blog to a wonderful free ebook for the Jesse Tree. It gets right to the heart of the matter. So much so that I struggle to read through without tears of gratitude.

We have other “Christmas traditions,” but these two Advent tradtions have become a priceless part of the season for us. They are tools that we intentionally choose to use to calm and focus our hearts and minds. They make our anticipation and celebration richer and fuller.

What Advent/Christmas traditions aid you in focusing on the Grand Story?

Mama Stuff

Stacy at Your Sacred Calling has a great post up today about Kiddos in the Kitchen. Before you read on here, I’d love it if you’d go take a look, and be sure to read the article she links to at Like a Warm Cup of Coffee.

Done? Good stuff, wasn’t it?

The whole “Did he know what He was doing when He gave them me?” question resonates with me (and probably most moms) deeply. I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for my failures instead of accepting His forgiveness and moving on in HIS strength. But He keeps working on me, and it’s wonderful to know that His grace covers my mistakes, failures, impatience, etc.

On the kiddos in the kitchen business…
I have long admired and desired the parenting “model” that brings your children alongside you as you work through the day. It made sense and it sounds so lovely (two links there). But man oh man, it seems so hard to do! (Listens for the Amens) So I continue to desire to live with my children alongside me, and keep looking for ways to make that workable for me.

Here’s how my efforts have often gone in the past. I have something to do, think it would be something with which the Blessings could help. I gather them around, thinking what a fun and bonding experience this will be. 30 minutes later, the project is complete, I feel like I should be half bald from pulling my hair out, and I go to take a nap wondering, “Why do I even try?” A couple months later, I might get the courage to try again.

That probably doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it?

Well, first of all, I’ve been working lately on my heart attitude toward my Blessings. You know I don’t call them that just because I think it’s cute, don’t you? The world around me needs to know that my children are viewed as Blessings. And me? I need the reminder! Yet it is so easy to fall into viewing them as burdens instead of blessings, and I’m continually needing to ask the Lord to give me HIS heart toward my children.

Another very practical thing I’ve realized is that it just doesn’t work to bring all seven of my Blessings alongside me at the same time! The goal of bringing them alongside as I work dovetails beautifully with my (also often unrealized) goal of spending time with them one-on-one. So lately, I’ve been working on remembering to call them to me one or two at a time to help with something.

This has been a great help when it comes to special projects as well. We made gift jars for Christmas presents this year (something I plan to post about separately), and I had them help in teams of two. Each team helped me put togetehr a batch of 6 gift jars. Stephen “helped” on more than one team. Similarly, when we made edible Christmas trees, it was just two or three at a time at the counter.

So while this is a cute pictures of the Blessings and their trees,

I realized while reading the aforementioned blogs that they’re not a realistic view of how those trees happened, and I don’t want to add to anyone’s Mama complex by presenting a false view!
They happened like this:

and this:

one, two, or (at most) three Blessings at a time. Then when they were all done, time for a fun picture, then the eating!

So what I’m trying to say through all my sputtering is this: Take heart, fellow Mamas! Keep stepping along with baby steps, seeking the next thing you are to do, treasure your Blessings, and know that God’s grace covers you and them when you fail. And don’t forget that one of the greatest gifts you can give your cbildren is for them to see you honoring, respecting, and loving your man!

Happy Christmas Week to you!

Here it is, the week of Christmas. We are done with schoolwork until 2010 and I am looking forward to enjoying a couple weeks of fun and play.

I haven’t written much about our Advent/Christmas related activities this year, mostly because I’ve been busy living them. But now that we’re on vacation, and I mostly have fun things on my to-do list (like Make more Jar Gifts, Play with Ribbon and the Trimmings from the bottom of the tree, sew for the Blessings, etc), I feel like I have time to post a bit.

This season has presented many opportunities for me to learn contentment with the not-perfect. And I’m thankful for that, which is another God thing.

A few example of my opportunities:
I’ve felt several steps behind for the last few weeks, greatly because I came out of my first trimester fog in mid-to-late November and had lots of catching up to do before I felt like I could focus on Advent/Christmas. What a wonderful reason for needing to skip some things!
We didn’t manage to do the Jesse Tree this year, which I miss, but it just wasn’t doable, and I’m ok with that.
Our Christmas decorating started late, but the house looks lovely and the Blessings helped, which is a treat for them and for me.
We had some unexpected emergency repairs that needed to be made to the van (to the tune of +$700), which put a cramp in what we thought we were doing for the Blessings for Christmas. But we try to not focus on the gifts anyway, and this has actually made that easier, as well as giving me the chance to get creative with the fabric we have on hand!

We were late to start our Advent Wreath, but have loved our times of sitting around the table reading Scripture and singing hymns and carols by candlelight. The Advent Wreath has become one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. The hush of our hearts in worship, the sound of our voices singing beloved songs together, the flicker of the candles… oh how I love it!

I’ll close this somewhat random post with an article that Jonathan and I wrote on behalf of our chapel that will be published in the mid-week Missourian:

As we anticipate Christmas, our thoughts turn to shepherds, stars, angels, Mary, Joseph, and especially to that baby born in a stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1.15), born in human flesh, he was fully God and fully man. We sense the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us, and our hearts are filled with thankfulness and joy.

Yet, in the midst of our Christmas celebrations, how often we forget why He came. The goal of the incarnation was not simply to have the Son born as a baby, to give us thoughts of sweetness and light. No, the goal of the incarnation, established before the world was formed by the very words of God, was for the Son to be slain to pay the penalty for the sins of the creation that would turn against the Creator. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5.21) We know that victory also lay in the path of that baby born in Bethlehem – Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day to show that the price had been paid, that sin and death had been conquered. But first, the anguish of the cross for our eternal life.

So as we celebrate the birth of our Savior this Christmas, may we keep in mind that, as wonderful as it is to contemplate, it was not His birth that brought us the hope of salvation. He was born to die, so that we might live forever. May you come to know Him in a fuller way this Christmas.

The Story

I wanted to share the verses I’m going to be reading to the kids today at our Good News Club Christmas party. It’s all so amazing and overwhelming to me that it’s hard to read without tears. That my Creator came so humbly, for the express purpose of dying on the cross 30-some years later – to pay the eternal price for my sin. Behold! What Love!

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
(Luke 2:1-20)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
(Col 1:15-17)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil. 2:5-11)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2Co 5:21)